who will look after your digital and social assets when you die?

And now a word from a sponsor…

With people having such large digital footprints these days, have you ever thought about what will happen to your online presence when you’re no longer here?

Increasingly, people are making “digital estate plans” – which is basically a will that includes a set of provisions for your digital assets. It’s a written plan that provides details on how to manage your digital assets: email accounts, social media accounts, online banking accounts, online subscription-based accounts, ecommerce or marketplace accounts (like Amazon or eBay), photos you’ve saved electronically or in the cloud, and even things like online chatroom accounts or online dating profiles.

A digital estate plan can help protect your online assets from risks like identity theft, hacking, and fraud posthumously – and makes sure anyone you want to have access to them does. You pick a digital executor to carry out your wishes; they’ll be granted access to all your online accounts and be in charge of handling how they are distributed or destroyed. In some situations, these could be fairly complex; for example, if you have an e-commerce business using something like Etsy or eBay, do you want a family member to continue running that business or do you want it to be shut down? (Be aware, too, that some social media accounts, like Facebook and Instagram, let you designate a legacy contact who can gain access to your account after you die and can choose to memorialize your page. Google offers something similar so a loved one can have access to your email, photos, calendar, etc.)

It’s important to make a separate list of your accounts and passwords or use a digital vault for your digital executor. You do not want to include any confidential information in your will because after you die, your will becomes public information – and you don’t want strangers having access to your user names and passwords.

But speaking of wills, you need one of those too! I’m continually surprised by how many people I talk to who haven’t written a will yet … meaning they’re giving up control over what happens to their assets after their deaths – and in some cases, kids and pets too. It truly doesn’t take much time to ensure that your family and loved ones are taken care of and things are handled the way you want.

Trust & Will makes it really easy to create a will through their digital estate plans. All their documents were designed by estate planning attorneys and are legally valid in all 50 states. You just take their simple quiz to customize the plan that works best for you and your family, then instantly download your documents or request a complimentary shipment of your estate plan. You can finalize your documents and make them legally binding with your signature and a notary. Plus, you’ll be able to make unlimited updates to your documents if things change later on.

It takes most people only about 15 minutes to complete their estate plans through Trust & Will. And you can get started for free and pay only when your documents are finalized and ready to sign.

Their standard will package includes a last will and testament, a digital assets plan, HIPAA authorization, a living will (for your medical wishes), and power of attorney. You will be in much better shape once you have these things.

Trust & Will is offering a 10% discount to Ask a Manager readers. Use promo code ASKAMANAGER for 10% off any estate plan on www.trustandwill.com.

This post is sponsored by Trust & Will. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

{ 50 comments… read them below }

  1. NewYork*

    Really helpful. My father died unexpectedly at 43, and I watched my mom struggle with things she should not had to. If you love people, you take care of this.

  2. Hermimi*

    Do this. Seriously. My mom passed away last week and left no will. I understand that it’s difficult to face the fact that we won’t be here forever, but it really doesn’t take too much time. Being her only instate child, I’ve been tasked with arrangements, finding an attorney for Probate, utilities, banks, HOA… everything. I haven’t been able to grieve because of the “business” of everything. Please make a will. I takes so little of your time while you are here.

    1. Exhausted Trope*

      I’m so sorry this happened. My father passed recently intestate and it’s been terribly difficult dealing with everything. There’s hardly been time for anything else.
      Good thoughts for you. Hope things get better.

  3. ThatGirl*

    This is something I think about sometimes. My passwords are written down in a secure spot, but we don’t have wills – I just turned 40, husband is 37 and we have no kids. So if just one of us died, god forbid, it would be simple enough. But I do sometimes think about what might happen if we both died suddenly – would our parents divide things up? I don’t even know how that would work.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Each state has a “intestate succession” law. The details vary, but generally they are pretty sensible. For someone in your situation a will might simplify matters for your survivors, but it probably wouldn’t substantially change where your stuff goes. Frankly, the biggest way you can simplify things for your survivor is to make sure anything important (real estate, cars, bank accounts) are in both your and your husband’s names, and take a look at secondary beneficiaries. A will is all about stuff that goes through your estate. Preventing your stuff from having to go through your estate is even better.

      1. ThatGirl*

        That was kinda what I thought. And yes, I think nearly everything is in both of our names; at least for myself I don’t have any secondary beneficiaries set up – but maybe I should think about that.

        1. Philosophia*

          Make sure everything is in both your names in joint tenancy, or your state’s equivalent, and not merely tenancy in common, and worded exactly according to the letter of the law at that. I ran into a “gotcha” when selling an old car that was registered as owned by two of us, one deceased, but unbeknownst to us the statute required the names to be joined by a conjunction, or some such nonsense. (A county official helped me sort it out.)

    2. TardyTardis*

      SFWA (Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America) has a pdf packet for writers that covers this. Kameron Hurley, I believe, has an article called “The Internet of the Dead” that discusses this, especially those who have generated intellectual property.

  4. Generic Elf*

    Also crypto wallets – it’s a good idea to print those phrases off and store them in a fire-proof safe so the assets can be recovered later

  5. spek*

    Trust & Will looks great! I had been thinking about using LegalZoom, but I really didn’t want to give any money to Robert Shapiro.

  6. Lady Meyneth*

    Huh. I literally never thought about planning for my digital accounts. Granted, I don’t have much social media presence and my spouse knows my email password, so it’s not that big a concern, but it’s really eye-opening to realize there’s an obvious gap in my will. Thank you for this, Alison!

  7. Schwinnie Cooper*

    What’s the average age that folks should start thinking about having a will? I have no children and no assets, but I do have a couple dollars in the bank and a retirement account…

    1. Verde*

      Now…even if it’s just last wishes and who’s in charge of executing things for you. It’s a gift you give your friends and family.

    2. ThatGirl*

      I wonder this too. I have a husband, a house and some assets in the form of savings/retirement/small investment account – if I were to die suddenly I have no issue with him getting everything, but what if we both died in a car accident or something? god forbid.

    3. KittenLittle*

      Right out of college! Especially if you have pets. Make sure whatever you have goes where you want it to go, and you have things set up to ease the burden on your family and friends.

    4. Richard Hershberger*

      The pious response is that everyone should have a will. The real answer is that if you have nothing to go through your estate, then a will doesn’t really serve any purpose. Also, a lot of stuff can be set up so it doesn’t go through your estate. Look into naming beneficiaries. That is the real favor you can do for your survivors.

      I only set up a will because I have kids. It only comes into play if the wife and I are run over by a bus together. The heart of it is who would be the kids’ guardian (and yes, discuss this with the prospective guardian first) and some housekeeping about the guardian being a trustee.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Naming beneficiaries makes life SO much easier. However, I would still suggest a will for SINKS/DINKS for one reason – naming an executor. Somebody has to deal with getting you buried, the death certificates, notifying financial companies to get those beneficiaries their money, dealing with credit card companies, etc. It’s much easier if that is spelled out in a will. My dad died intestate and that was the biggest pain in the ass of the whole situation.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          The thing is, the will doesn’t appoint the executor. The court does. The will guides the court, but it can go in a different direction. The court only appoints an executor if the will is probated, which you wouldn’t normally bother with if there is no significant estate. The jobs you mention don’t require anything so formal as an executor. What you describe sounds more like everyone is sitting around wondering who will handle this stuff, where had there been a will naming Bob, he would take it on without the need for the discussion.

    5. Cathie McCoy*

      In my case (I’m single and childless) I had a will drafted by a lawyer when I purchased my first home. Prior to that I had no assets that would have gone through any kind of probate. I would advise others to do it earlier.

      One key thing, however, is to review and possibly update your documents on a regular basis to take into account any changes to your assets or family situation. Since my first will was drafted when I was 39, I have used the “level up a decade” birthdays as a trigger for such a review. (I learned this lesson because my father’s will was drafted when I was 3. He died when I was 30. It was almost amusing to read about the guardians he had set up for me and my brothers.)

    6. SnappinTerrapin*

      Not everyone needs a will. There are other means of setting up and implementing an estate plan.

      Having said that, everyone needs to think through the process.

      Now is better than later, with the caveat that it is wise to re-examine the plan from time to time, to ensure changing circumstances don’t change what you need/want to happen after your death.

  8. JB*

    We’ve started a family account with LastPass, so I think/hope we at least have the basics covered in terms of knowing passwords. But it’s a LOT to think about. I helped my 80+ year old date CONSOLIDATE his list of passwords and it’s still over 100 accounts. Some fairly innocuous, but lots of financial, retail (tied to credit cards), health related.

    For myself, I’m an prolific reader and switched to ebooks almost years ago. I have over 5000 ebooks purchased across two providers. No one but me cares about them. Mostly fiction. But still – all those years of purchasing and collecting….

    One other thing, as my in-laws aged, they downsized/reduced assets, had adult son as co-lister on everything. Father-in-law passed away first. ONE of the investments accounts…when the dust settled it left ONLY mother-in-law as beneficiary/owner. They didn’t notice and when she passed, they had to take her “estate” through probate. $3,000 in fees, about 10 months of processing because they forgot to update that one account.

  9. Toss a Coin To Your Witcher*

    I want my chosen family to keep posting weird ish from my account after I die à la Herman Cain. I’ll chase immortality however I can get it.

  10. Verde*

    Dear god, write a will, especially if you have children or any other dependents! Having been through some experiences where last wishes weren’t known, it’s *rough*. Even if you don’t have a lot of money or property, it is a gift to those who survive you if they know what you wanted and who you wanted to execute it.

  11. Valkyrie*

    I work in estate planning and I have for nearly a decade, I have to say that these services often cause a big mess for administration. They can be good as a stop-gap but I’ve seen a LOT of poorly-drafted documents end up costing the estate a lot more in the long run. Honest and truly your best bet is to find a competent attorney who specializes in this practice area, this is not an area where you want to skimp.

    1. CDubs*

      Thank you! I also work in estate planning and have seen the same thing. You definitely get what you pay for. I second the recommendation of hiring a competent attorney who specializes in estate planning.

    2. Malarkey01*

      YES. Especially if you have minor children. Issues of guardianship vary by state too so having help from a local attorney can make things proceed more orderly which is critical if they require medical care (for example the whole family is in a car accident together and they survive).

      1. Anon estate planning*

        This! IANAL, but my spouse and I just finished our estate planning with a wonderful local estate attorney who said that he’d seen lots of worthless online wills that caused only problems. Also, it was eye-opening how low the asset threshold is in many states for you to go to probate. If you own a home or business, or have children and/or pets, a living trust can save so much time, hassle and heartache down the road.

    3. bluephone*

      Seconding this. I don’t have any kids but do I have a lot of elderly relatives who are only getting older and sicker. And whether they have kids or not, their estates have become a mess even before they die thanks to dementia, terminal illnesses, etc. Get a will (and POA documents) from an in-the-flesh attorney, revisit it every so often, make sure everyone knows the details, etc. Even if you don’t have kids. Even if all your next of kin have already passed on or you’re estranged from them. (Especially then). Is there any possible chance that dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease run in your family?? Get a will, get a medical POA, get a durable POA, get a financial POA, go through all your important documents and make sure they’re easily accessible (and up to date), and if you’re a hoarder then you need to call Matt Paxton (or whomever took over) like yesterday and get all *that* straightened out too. No one likes thinking about this stuff but you know what no one likes even less? Getting dragged into BS fights with random cousins about this crap while you’re trying to grieve or provide 24/7 care to an incapacitated relative (on top of the guilt of whether or not it’s time to place them in a nursing home because their care is that advanced).

      See a real lawyer for real end of life documents, please.

  12. RubyJackson*

    I was preparing my will from an attorney’s office, everything all designated, then it asked about my digital assets- I’m a photographer and hadn’t thought about that- so I froze in making a decision and never finished the will.

    1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      That sounds more like you need to figure out who will be in charge of managing your estate’s copyrights, which is another “fun” thing that a lot of people don’t realize they need to do. Copyright is life plus a bunch of years, so your copyrights will inherently outlive you and need to be managed by your estate in some form if you’ve created anything that people might want to copy or otherwise license after you’re gone. Think about who in your life understands the context of your works well enough to decide when to license and for how much after you’re gone.

      It’s a problem I’ve seen happen when someone creates something that’s of sentimental value to a group they’re involved with, but that their family isn’t really a part of, and dies without making a separate designation about their IP. Now that they’re gone their family has no interest in letting that poem be re-printed or that song included in a songbook for the big summer group get-together because they think they’re getting “ripped off” and hold out for absurd amounts of money because they assume all such works are commercially valuable. (Lots of poems and songs are not exactly moneymakers, but this is not always obvious to people who have never tried to make a living selling them. Things members of hobbyist groups write primarily to appeal to other members of their group are particularly unlikely to be blockbusters.) This means the community stops reprinting that poem or song in their small, probably sold at-cost publications and the deceased’s works are gradually forgotten, generally. It’s incredibly frustrating.

  13. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

    You want a Will and Power of Attorney and so forth but form letters are not a replacement for proper legal documents from an experienced lawyer.
    Yes they charge more but leaving your beneficiaries (and executor(s)) with the headache of a will that is not properly written for your situation is false economy.

  14. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I work in a public library and I teach a class on this! Check your library for something similar.

  15. Drago Cucina*

    My parish is building a columbarium and my husband and I have bought our niches. Sunday someone she didn’t want to think about it. I explained that when we go I want to minimize the things our sons need to worry about. Any music played at my funeral lunch should be more Led Zeppelin than hymns.
    A friend’s husband died recently. She’s a CPA and when her attorney was giving her bad financial advice on handling the estate (contrary to her husband’s wishes) she was able to knowledgably counter it.

    It is a kindness to get it taken care of.

  16. No Tribble At All*

    Just for an estimate, how much does this service cost for a basic will? Married couple? Is it like $50 or $500?

  17. Ms Yvonne*

    This looks very simple and straightforward, and I should get off my butt and do it, but I don’t think Trust&Will does Canada. Anyone have any recommendations for similar services that Canadians can use? I Googled, but it all looks way scammy to me.

    1. Ontario Library Employee*

      My library offers free access to LawDepot online to create your own wills, forms, etc. I don’t know what it would cost if yours doesn’t, but it is a Canadian option.

  18. TiffIf*

    Slightly tangential question when it comes to copyrighted assets, can you define in your will that you want them to pass into the public domain immediately following your death instead of the death +75 years?

  19. Forty Years in the Hole*

    Finish it!
    A bit O/T: Years ago we visited hubby’s parents, with the express purpose of helping them do their self-help wills. MIL hid in the bedroom – honestly thought that God would strike them down there and then. FIL was so relieved when it was done. They were both gone 2 years later. Everything went smoothly.

    Also never thought about digital assets. We were required to make basic wills and POA before transferring overseas (14 yrs ago), based on the law of consanguinity (if no kids, then next immediate family and their kids, etc. Then others). Returned 10 yrs ago and we’ve been meaning to update (beneficiaries die, relationships morph). And we have 1000s of photos; extensive genealogy research files; banking and investment accounts; subscriptions -all password-protected.

    We actually invited our nieces and nephews in to choose stuff (no kids), so we can assign things in our wills. If there’s something that two or more family are interested in – we’ll determine as fairly as possible who gets it. And a clause to look after pets: some animal agencies have a “pet stewardship program” to ensure your pet is cared for.
    We have a close family member designated to execute the provisions of the will. Now we need to do the digital thing. “One of these days…”

  20. anon for this one*

    My work has a basic will service via our EAP. I took a look at it, but it didn’t cover my situation. I have kids with my partner but we’re not married and not registered domestic partners. Yeah, I know we need to do something asap. Of the two people I thought most likely to become guardian for the kids in a worst case scenario, one has died (FU cancer!) and the other is having memory and fragility issues.

  21. Phil*

    I had to do this. My friend had provided for everything in her will EXCEPT the digital world. It was a mess.

  22. Scandinavian Vacationer*

    My 58 year old sister died 2 weeks ago, and I’m in hell without her passwords, access to her email, and no passcode for her iPhone. She was single, and apparently did not think to plan ahead. PLEASE give your family the gift of putting your “affairs in order” including your digital footprint. Then they can really grieve, instead of administering the business of your life.

  23. scmill*

    My sister and I were lucky that our parents made their wills and kept them up to date as needed. When first our mother and then father passed away, settling their estates was fairly simple. I made my sister my beneficiary and gave her POA for both financial and medical issues. Once the documents were complete, I gave them to her to put away safely since she is the one who will need them.

  24. M-C*

    Before you either hire a lawyer or do your will online, you should check out the appropriate Nolo Press book from the library (or just buy it..). It’ll get you thinking about the many ramifications of your decisions, and get you better equipped to set things up the way you really want (even if just a handwritten sheet in the end).

    If you’re ‘lucky’, you’ll get the diagnosis of a fatal disease, and get to pass along all information in an orderly manner. But in my family, people tend to drop dead suddenly. It’s been a motivation in keeping my info current

  25. TNR Cat Lady*

    If you live with someone that you are not married to please make sure to have estate planning. My “Step Mom” passed a few years ago. My Dad and her were not married due to the benefits she received based on her ex-hysband. She had no surviving relatives (except us) and we couldn’t find a will for several days. Their house in Illinois was in her name and my Dad could have been locked out of the home if the will had not been found. He would of had to prove what was his. If you have assets please see an attorney to set up your estate wishes – you either pay now or your family pays later – monetarily and emotionally.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      This happened to my uncle and his fiance. They were together for decades but never married. She worked at his business but they didn’t take paychecks–he just called everything a “business expense”. When he died suddenly she was left without a job and with only minimal social security since she hadn’t contributed in 25 years. He was a guy who spent like water and his “retirement plan” was to work until he dropped dead, which is what happened (literally; he had a heart attack at work), so there was functionally no savings. His kids inherited the business and let her keep the house, although I doubt she can afford it. So she’s 80 years old and has basically nothing.

  26. Dust Bunny*

    How did I miss this post?

    PLEASE have a plan!

    I friend of my parents’, who was a medical researcher in a high specialized field, died recently and nobody can figure out where her research went. We think it might be in “the cloud” since she was severely physically disabled and largely unable to use paper materials, but . . . nobody can find it. I work for the archives of the big medical center to which her institution is attached and we desperately want it (and her next of kin would love to have it preserved and available to researchers) but we can’t find it and she left no information about where it is, how it’s stored, or what she intended to do with it. It’s a huge amount of information in a really interesting and under-promoted field and, unless somebody is insanely lucky and can crack her passwords, it’s just gone.

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